John Murray, staff franchise officer of global development at Mars Inc., summed it up best when he spoke at the 42nd World Federation of Advertising Congress in Sydney last month-the first time the WFA met in Asia-Pacific.
Other speakers repeated his message. "Advertising must be created from the standpoint of the consumer," said Masayuki Nomura, general manager of the corporate advertising division at Matsushita Electrical Industrial Co., Osaka, Japan.
The message was echoed the following week at AdAsia '95 in Bali, Indonesia.
It's not surprising that ad conferences in Asia-Pacific focused on "local consumers" in these days of "global marketing." Unquestionably, this is the hottest market in the world. Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP Group Inc., said ad agencies don't have enough presence there. "It is absolutely critical in our business to have a stronger representation," he said.
But he also noted that marketers have been wrong to "conglomerate" the many Asian-Pacific cultures into one, pointing to the diverse cultures of Japan, Korea, Indochina, India and Pakistan, Australia and New Zealand, and greater China. Urban C. Lehner, editor of The Asian Wall Street Journal, rephrased the message: "The differences from one Asian country to another may be more significant than the similarities."
He was speaking about the Asian press, but the sentiment applies also to Asian consumers.
To be successful, marketers must look closely enough at Asian-Pacific consumers to decipher their differences, their desires-and their demands. However, Hans Merkle, manager of external affairs at Procter & Gamble in Germany, issued an important additional warning at the WFA Congress. "The consumer should be king, not the regulator."
A week later it was not a king but a president-Indonesian President H. Soeharto-who provided some direction.
"The ultimate goal of advertising is to influence the mind and attitude of society to be attracted to buy the products and use the services thus advertised," he said. "We are well aware that advertising plays a great role in sustaining economic growth and enhancing competitiveness. However, we should never overlook the responsibility of the advertising world toward the general public."
He encouraged self-regulation: "We are all aware of the importance of preserving our own national identity. A great economic progress will be meaningless if, in the end, we will be deprived of our own culture. It is precisely to preserve the national culture that I appeal to all of us to review our advertising practices."
The president's words show a respect for, and an appreciation of, advertising. In return he requests respect for the cultures of consumers.